In the White City (1983)

In the White City (1983)

“I dreamt the city was white, the room was white, and loneliness and calm were white, too.”

A sailor (Bruno Ganz) on indefinite personal leave in Lisbon romances a waitress (Teresa Madruga) while writing letters and sending videos to his partner (Julie Vonderlinn) back home.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alain Tanner Films
  • Bruno Ganz Films
  • Expatriates
  • Sailors
  • Swiss Films

Peary lists five of Swiss director Alain Tanner’s films in his GFTFF: Charles, Dead or Alive (1969), La Salamandre (1971), The Middle of the World (1974), Jonah Who Will Be 25 In the Year 2000 (1976), and this solipsistic drama of a man hoping to somehow unmoor himself from the world while still remaining very much in it. Thank goodness Ganz — a highly watchable actor — is in the lead role, since he helps us remain engaged far longer than we otherwise would.

However, it’s difficult to sympathize with a man who unself-consciously proclaims things like, “I’m a liar who wants to be sincere” and “If all clocks went backwards, the world would work properly.”

Madruga is appealing as Ganz’s Portuguese love interest, and it’s easy to see why he falls for her:

… but it’s infuriating watching Ganz write letters to his partner back home, assuming she will simply put up with him telling her about his new lover.

(Vonderlinn gets rightfully pissed off at him at one point, but then is back to waiting patiently for his letters — this is a film made from a male-privileged point of view, after all.) The biggest selling point of the movie is the gorgeous cinematography of Lisbon, which does indeed look like a city one wouldn’t mind getting lost in for awhile.

It’s too bad the narrative, such as it is (it was apparently largely improvised), doesn’t do the city justice.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Bruno Ganz as Paul
  • Beautiful cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only for fans of Ganz or Tanner. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


2 thoughts on “In the White City (1983)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    It’s just not much of a movie, really. Simple as that.

    I visited Lisbon once… for several days, with a friend. I certainly recall the train station from seeing it again in this movie – but I believe we stayed in a different part of town, probably one more suitable for tourists. Quite a nice visit.

  2. Lisbon is on my bucket list! (It was before seeing this movie, and now especially so.)

    I agree, this film seems to be taking place in more of the “lived” area of the city rather than a tourist destination (though I haven’t been there, so can’t say for sure).

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